January 15, 2003
(TORONTO) -- Fans of Team Canada were no doubt disappointed with their heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the US at the 2004 World Junior Championship in Helsinki.
If only, some Toronto Maple Leaf fans might have wondered, if only they had bright Toronto prospect Ian White in the line-up.
White, a big, strong defenceman, was a force on the blueline for Team Canada at the 2003 tournament in Halifax, recording 6 points in 6 games.
This year, however, the Swift Current Bronco was a late cut from the Canada's WJC squad because of an ankle injury.
Leaf fans might be happy to learn, however, that the organization's two other prospects in the tournament played very well.
Swedish centre Alexander Steen, who captained his team for the second straight year, and Slovak left winger Martin Sagat, both contributed to their team's performance and made a strong impression on Leaf director of amateur scouting Barry Trapp.
"Both players played extremely well," Trapp said. "We're very happy with both of them, we're extremely pleased."
The same cannot exactly be said for their teams, however, as Sweden finished in seventh spot with and Slovakia sixth. Sweden finished eighth in 2003, Slovakia fifth.
"Going in, we expected Sweden to be a little better, but they moved up only one spot," said Trapp. "They were a disappointment, but (Steen) wasn't."
The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Steen, who plays for Frolunda Gothenburg in the Swedish elite league, had two goals and one assist in six games.
| Alexander Steen is a couple years away from playing with the Leafs. |
"Alex is a solid two-way player," said Trapp. "He's a guy who goes out and plays the same every shift, every game. He never takes a shift off, has great work ethic, and is really smart and very creative.
"He's what I call a no-nonsense player. He just goes out and plays very, very smart and solid hockey."
At the World Junior Tournament, Trapp said, it seemed like Steen was on the ice every second shift for Team Sweden. That's the kind of impact and presence he has.
Toronto's first choice, 24th overall in the 2002 entry draft, Steen attended the Leafs' prospect camp last summer, and also took part in the big club's training camp in Stockholm last September. He was only in camp for four days before he had to return to his club team to start the season, "but he impressed," said Trapp. "He left everybody with a good impression."
The next step for Steen, who turns 20 on March 1, is to continue to develop in Sweden. "There'ss an outside chance he could play for their national team," said Trapp. "That's what we're hoping for.
"He's capable of playing (with the Leafs) within two years."
As for Sagat, he scored just one goal in the WJC tournament, but it was a big one. He potted the tying goal in a 2-2 tie against the defending champion Russian team in Slovakia's opening game on Dec. 26. His challenge now is to return to his junior team, the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, and continue his production while trying to add some muscle to his lean 6-foot-4, 198-pound frame.
"He's a very smart creative player, and his main strengths are puck handling and play making skills," said Trapp. Sagat makes the most of his creativity and long reach in his role as a playmaker. "But the biggest thing with him is he just has to gain some weight and strength."
In 33 games with Kootenay, Sagat has 6 goals and 22 assists for 28 points.
"The people in Kootenay are very, very pleased with him, not only on the ice but off the ice as well. He's an outstanding young man," said Trapp. "They love him there."
Sagat attended the training camp of the Leafs' American Hockey League farm club, the St. John's Maple Leafs, which was held in Kitchener last fall. Trapp says he had a good camp there and made a strong impression. The next step is to invite him to the Leafs' main camp, and from there it will be a decision whether he returns to his club team, Trencin of the Slovakia elite league, or plays another year in Kootenay as an overage junior.
The third-round pick of the 2003 draft turns 20 in November.
Wayne Karl is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He can be reached at email@example.com